2018 Mini Countryman plug-in

MIAMI — The Mini Cooper is not yet at the stage where it needs to be upgraded to the “MAXI” Cooper, but it seems to be moving in that direction. Launched in 1959 as a trend-setting, two-door sub-compact that was 120.25 inches long — not much more than the wheelbase for many large vehicles — and weighed in at just over 1,300 pounds, the Mini now is available as a four-door wagon that is four feet longer and weighs in at twice the original hardtop’s heft.

Yet it still evokes the same carefree, fun attitude of its smaller predecessor.

And now it’s electric.

Well, sort of.

I’m not sure how many points a range of 25 miles or so on a fully charged battery is going to get from the greenies, but that’s what the pairing of the turbo-charged 3-cylinder engine and electric motor in the 2018 Mini Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 will get you at speeds up to 78 mph to earn it an MPGe rating of 65 miles-per-gallon.

A plug-in hybrid, the power train is new for this year as Mini’s first serious dip into the electric world since the limited-production Mini E of 2008. With that kind of limited range, though, it’s kind of like sticking your toes into the pool to test the water temperature before jumping in.

If you are already mentally doing the math to see just how far it’s going to take you on electric juice alone, fear not. After the 7.6 kilowatt, lithium-ion battery poops out, the Countryman S E runs on gas only, drinking fuel at a rate of 27 mpg, and you still have 134 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque to work with.

When running in tandem, the electric motor and gas engine have a combined 221 hp and 264 lb.-ft. of torque, more than enough oomph for a competitive driving experience.

The SE Countryman ALL 4, as the “4” designation might clue you, is an all-wheel drive vehicle with front wheels getting power from the gas engine and the electric motor delivering its 87 hp and 122 lb.-ft. of power to the rear. A 6-speed automatic transmission is standard.

One of the more surprising things to first-time occupants in the Mini is the amount of interior space it provides. As the largest in the Mini portfolio, the Countryman delivers there.

Even the rear-seat passengers get up to 37.6 inches of legroom. It’s the cargo area that gets the short stick with less than 16 cubic feet of space available, though up to 48.5 cubic feet is available with the second-row folded.

The cabin has a premium feel about it as might be expected of a product out of parent company BMW’s luxury stable. Not that you are going to confuse the Mini with a Bimmer. The large circular display at the top of the center stack keeps you very much aware that you are in a Mini.

The Countryman S E rides on standard 18-inch wheels and gets LED headlights and fog lights as standard along with features like dual-zone climate control, heated front sport seats (which some might find too snug), a rear camera, and more included in the MSRP of $36,800 (plus the $850 destination charge).

There is the usual laundry list of upgraded features available like a premium Harmon Kardon sound system and automatic climate control, but the only extras on my test vehicle that came with a charge were $500 for the melting silver metallic exterior color, $500 for the parking assist system, $750 for the head-up display, and $300 for the SiriusXM satellite radio with a one-year subscription.

That ran the total up to $39,700, which pretty makes the Mini Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 the most expensive of its class.

What I liked about the 2018 Mini Cooper S E Countryman ALL4: It has good interior space for passengers and the hybrid system provides plenty of power. I really wasn’t
conscious of any lag. The torque number is impressive for a vehicle of this class.

What I didn’t like abo
ut the 2018 Mini Cooper S E Countryman ALL4: The infotainment system is not particularly complicated, but getting through various functions does take some extra steps at times — not surprising, since BMW models can be annoying in that aspect. The head-up system isn’t worth the cost and the display, with what looks like a piece of plastic sticking up from the dash, detracts from the cabin’s appearance. Oh, and I don’t really get the appeal of going through the hassle of plug-in recharging.

Would I buy the 2018 Mini Cooper S E Countryman ALL4? Probably not. It’s a good car, but a bit on the expensive side. It’s fun to drive, yes, but I’m certain you can find competitors that offer a pleasant experience behind the wheel and will look good and save you a few bucks in the process.

— Paul Borden